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Beyond the Boat: Composing A Custom Cooler

As a whitewater rafter, my cooler is an integral piece of gear to my paddling arsenal - it holds those after paddle sandwiches, and keeps those victory (and in some instances disappointment) beverages cold.  But like all Wal-Mart specials, your average cooler doesn’t stand up to the rigors of your active lifestyle.

There are a few common problems with the average cooler; 1) the lid doesn’t stay closed/on, 2) the handles either break, or are inadequate, 3) if you have it strapped into your boat during a flip, the straps can come off the ends freeing your turkey sandwich into the river, and 4) the lid seems to always allow water to enter via the seam.   

But have no fear, I’ve found a way to make that $20.00 investment last a little longer … or at least not be swamped with river water (yuck) by the end of your rafting trip! For this project you will need:

Tools Supplies
1) Drill (variable speed) 1) 3/8” Wide Weather Stripping (vinyl)
2) 3/16” Drill Bit 2) Pop Rivets (Qty of 20-25 / K799555BK-1)
3) Rivet Tool 3) Tie Down Eye Strap (Qty of 4 / K081261-1 or K081251-1)
4) Razor and/or Knife 4) Cam Straps w/ Buckles
5) Marking Pen 5) Scrap Webbing (flat or tubular)
6) Sealant (Aquaseal or Shoe Goo) 6) Scrap Climbing Rope (+/- 2-ft)
7) Soldering Iron 7) SEA-LECT Designs Bottle Opener (K588450-1)

                

For the supplies you can’t obtain from your local SEA-LECT Designs Dealer, try these suggestions on where to find them:

• Weather Stripping (any hardware store should have it)

• Cam Straps w/ Buckles (come on, any true paddler has some extra NRS Straps lying around)

• Scrap Webbing/Rope (climbing gyms typically retire their ropes/webbing and will sell scrap pieces; or as an alternative option, use SEA-LECT Designs Webbing Handles, K736462-1, or our traditional Carry Handles with Caps, K736451-1).

 

Water Resistant Lid

I began by working on the lid to make it a bit more water resistant. Start by applying the weather stripping on a straight section of the lid; removing the backing as you go instead of all at once will make it easier to form the corners smoothly. Once you’ve gone around the lid and reached the point where you began, create a bit of overlap before you make your cut (lesson learned, I didn’t overlap enough and now there is a small gap in the foam).

Secure Closure

Next, in order to make sure the lid stays in place, I fastened cam buckles to the cooler body. Cut two 5-inch lengths of scrap webbing; feed them through the fixed end of the buckle and fold so the two ends meet. Then with the soldering gun melt two holes through the two folded-over pieces of strapping (lesson learned, folding over the fabric to make a double layer at the fastening point will make the material less likely to stretch and tear). If using 1-1/2-inch webbing there will be enough space to put the holes side by side, but with 1-inch webbing you’re best putting them in-line, or slightly offset to each other, like I did.

Once your holes are melted, identify the place where you want to mount the straps and buckles on the cooler. Mark through the holes with a marking pen where you plan to drill and use a power drill with a 3/16-inch bit to carefully drill your holes in the body of the cooler (Caution: when drilling the holes for the pop rivets be sure not to drill through both layers of the cooler otherwise you’ll have water leaking into the insulating cavity of the cooler). With the holes drilled, force a pop rivet through the holes in the straps first, then fasten them to the body of the cooler.  Repeat this process for the second attachment point on the other side.

Once you buckles are attached on the front, you can fasten the lashing points to the back of the cooler by repeating the process of soldering, drilling and pop riveting.  Now you can cinch that lid down snug and not have to worry about losing your lunch (additionally, the tighter seal will help to keep your ice frozen longer).

No-Slip Lid

From here I added four Footman’s Loops (K081261-1) to help keep lashing straps from moving around and possibly coming off the cooler. These loops act more as a guide than a secure point, and could be attached anywhere to fit your specific needs and style of tie down. Again, when you drill be sure that you only go through one layer of the cooler wall.

Upgraded Handles

To add handles, find an appropriate location on the cooler that will make carrying this heavy beast easier and fasten using the pop rivets.  In this case I used a 1-inch wide section tubular webbing and an old scrap of 11mm climbing rope – inserting the rope into the tubular webbing to give the handle some rigidity, as well as a wider area for the grip.  If the climbing webbing and rope idea doesn’t work for you, again use your imagination and see if SEA-LECT Designs Webbing Handles, K736462-1, or our traditional Carry Handles with Caps, K736451-1 might work.

Never Be Without A Bottle Opener

The final touch was adding the SEA-LECT Designs Wall Mounted Bottle Opener (K588450-1).  Unfortunately our pop rivets are too wide to fit the mounting holes, so in this case I used the smallest bit I had to drill pilot holes for the included screws.  However, because they’re mounting into micro-thin plastic the grip isn’t as strong as I would like … in the future I might see if I can find a narrower pop rivet to sure it up.

 

Well, there you have it! You’ll be everyone’s best friend at the take out! If you have any other cool ideas on how to customize your gear, or how to improve on this project, let me know - send me an e-mail at jed@sealectdesigns.com. Maybe we’ll put it in the next edition of Beyond the Boat.

Happy Paddling!

 

Beyond the Boat is a product of Jed Hawkes, SEA-LECT Designs Customer Service Rep extraordinaire … look for new additions to the Beyond the Boat series as he outfits his truck, home and other paddling outlets using SEA-LECT Designs products to make the "Outdoor Lifestyle" just a little bit easier!


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